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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Hole in the Ground

"But down in the underground
You'll find someone true
Down in the underground
A land serene
A crystal moon"
                                    - David Bowie

In the famous Leonard Bernstein song "New York, New York" -- from the musical ON THE TOWN -- there is a lyric referring to the New York subway. 

"The people ride in a hole in the ground." 
LA's Metro

It doesn't sound too appealing, and truth to tell, the New York subway is hardly anybody's idea of a nice way to get around. It's efficient, it's cheap, and it's ubiquitous. And anyone who has ever ridden it will tell you it's not a whole lot of fun. (Hole lot of fun???)

Underground railway systems have been with us for more than a century and a half, with London's Metropolitan Underground Railway -- The "Tube" -- initiating service in 1863. Given its head start, it's no wonder The Tube is an extensive network, allowing for transportation all around the London metro area. Other than New York's legendary Subway, The Tube is perhaps the most extensive underground network in the world. (I base this solely upon personal experience, so feel free to gently correct my education.)

I have written extensively about airline and automotive travel, and a few sidelines into cruising and above-ground trains, but it occurred to me that -- other than a sideways relation between the Eurostar train's sub-English Channel run and other underground routes -- I have never really mentioned the subway.

Atlanta's MARTA
While some cities boast huge networks of below-the-ground systems, others give it a passing glance, with the subterranean portions being short runs when otherwise above-ground transit requires it. Los Angeles is such a place. So is Atlanta. Chicago's "El" just takes the whole damned thing and puts the tracks above your head, not under your feet.

But a subway experience, despite all of the negatives associated with it, can at times be just another aspect of a city's personality. New York is in many ways defined by its subway. London's Tube can be an adventure unto itself. Paris' Metro is a wonderland down below, with its own carefully cultivated art and music scene.

New York subway entrance
Some people feel that traveling the underground trains is a bad way to "see" a city, and I can't disagree, based solely on the fact much of your views are, of necessity, dark. Or dark with intermittent flashes of fluorescence. In some cases they can be nervewracking for the uneasy tourist. I get that -- it feels as though you're being swept along, surrounding by largely uncaring commuters who have no other purpose than to get from point A to point Z. It can be an overwhelming experience.

But they ARE, in most cases, part of the feel of a city. Part of its culture and character. The New York subway is as much a part of the experience as is a New York taxi. 

I'm not saying you should only use the subway, but try it. See if it isn't a better way to travel. 

And even if it isn't, it's still part of the adventure.

Pigalle station on Paris' Metro

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